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By Jennifer Panek

The courtship and remarriage of a wealthy widow used to be a favored motif in early smooth comedian theatre. Jennifer Panek brings jointly a number of texts, from ballads and jest-books to sermons and court docket files, to check this staple of comedian theatre in its cultural context. She persuasively demanding situations the stereotype of the lusty widow as a tactic to dissuade girls from moment marriages, arguing in its place that it was once deployed to allow her suitors to regain their masculinity, below hazard from the dominant, wealthier widow.

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Extra info for Widows and Suitors in Early Modern English Comedy

Sample text

Working with a sample of 138 Norfolk landholders’ wills from between 1440 and 1580, Jane Whittle scrutinizes the thirteen wills which limit bequests in case of remarriage and concludes that “the argument that the restriction manifests male jealousy and concern for children’s The widow’s choice 21 inheritance cannot be upheld” (57): among other things, almost half of the “restrictive” testators give the lie to any such interpretation by providing the widow with land if she remained single, and cash – from the sale of the land – if she did not.

In fact, the distaste for remarriage evident in these manuals is far more consonant with the practices and customs – some having little to do with religion – of their countries of origin, than with what can be discerned of remarriage in pre-Reformation England; that some of them, notably Vives’s Instruction, were translated into English does not appear to have meant that they thereby dictated, or even unduly influenced ingrained local customs and the attitudes that accompanied them. There is, as I will show, little evidence that Catholic England held the same cultural biases against female remarriage as Spain, Italy, or France; proof that any such bias lingered on through the Elizabethan period and into the seventeenth century is even harder to find.

But while most of Gouge’s sinful “contraries” are drawn from everyday life for the better edification of his London parishioners, in the case of remarriage he apparently lacks material of this sort, and is obliged to fall back on censuring the opinion of ancient heretical sects, the Montanists and the “Cataphryges” (187). That Gouge, The widow’s choice 25 a Puritan minister, approves of remarriage is not especially surprising, but it is worth noting that he evidently assumes both his immediate audience and society at large share his sentiments.

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